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Testing the Limits of Google Translate

Google Translate is an amazing thing.  You can take a chunk of text in just about any language, paste it into Google Translate, and it is instantaneously (if imperfectly) translated.

Since I can’t speak anything other than English, I’m not in a great position to say how good or bad the translations are, but my multi-lingual friends generally turn their noses up at Google Translate, saying it doesn’t do that great a job.

My response is that compared to any other alternative I know (like trying to track down someone who speaks Croatian, or going word by word through a Croatian-English dictionary), it seems like a miracle.  I love it.

But even Google Translate has its limits.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 2.56.54 PMA few weeks back, I was in Germany.  I know a little tiny bit of German – enough to say things and sometimes be understood, but not enough to understand when people speak to me, usually.  I wanted to thank my hosts for being so gracious.  Just to be sure that what I was going to say in German made sense, I typed it in English into Google Translate and asked for the German translation.  What Google Translate gave back to me seemed a bit odd, but then again, German often seems odd to me.

I rehearsed the phrases until I was comfortable with them, and then confidently approached my host Hedwig (who spoke essentially no English) and told her, in German, how kind they had been and how nice it had been to be with them.

Usually when I do this, I am met with smiles and enthusiasm.  But this time, my host just looked at me forlornly.  So I said it again, more slowly and clearly.   She put her hand on my shoulder gently, the message being that what I said was so far from real German that I should please not say it again.  But I kept trying, even, in the end, spelling out some of the words.  The longer I tried, the more confused she became.

So I finally figured I would just show her the written words, still on my phone in Google Translate.

And that’s when I realized the problem.  I had meant to type in “I had such a nice time with you.”  Instead, I had typed in “I had such a mice time with you.”

Not even Google Translate is smart enough to overcome that kind of stupidity, at least not yet.

I will be much more careful the next time I use Google Translate this way!